September

Shakespeare’s Sonnets

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.433  Monday, 28 September 2015

 

From:        Ian Steere <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         September 27, 2015 at 5:11:48 AM EDT

Subject:    Shakespeare’s Sonnets

 

In his intent to discredit theories that the sonnets include representations of real characters, Jim Carroll (SHAKSPER, 25 September) rejects Ari Friedlander’s acceptance of Mr WH as the main addressee of the poems. In the latter respect I agree with Jim. That theory (in all its sub-categories) has too many shortcomings to be taken seriously.

 

However, his support of Foster’s theory - that “W.H.” was a misprint of “W.SH.” (supposedly a reference by the publisher, Thorpe, to the author, Shakespeare) - is equally open to dismissal. Why would Thorpe, the man who evidently commissioned and instructed the printer, Eld, accept so misleading a misprint in the most important part of his introductory address? One cannot reasonably attribute this to a mistake caused by bad or unconventional handwriting. Eld had an existing printer/publisher relationship with Thorpe. His knowledge and experience made him more competent than anyone born after his time to assess the coherence of Thorpe’s proposed publication and his instructions. He was (with high probability) in a position to clarify directly with the publisher any uncertainties as to the latter’s intentions.

 

Moreover, Foster’s mooted identification of Shakespeare with WH leads to strains of interpretation elsewhere in Thorpe’s foreword. Its references to “our ever-living poet” then become unreasonably clumsy in their otherwise natural evoking of the literary immortality of the author. To avoid this clumsiness one is forced instead to postulate this to be an unlikely reference to some other poet or to God.

 

It is, of course true, as Jim shows, that many of Shakespeare’s sonnets reflect or imitate various aspects of preceding poems and fictional works of others. However, mirroring of this nature provides little specific evidence as to the underlying intent of the author. It merely suggests that he or she is prepared to use what is seen as good material to achieve the objective, whatever that is. There must been many a letter or poem to a beloved which has imitated or borrowed from another’s example of excellence - particularly so if there is also an accompanying desire to impress with education, skill or whatever.

 

When they are analyzed as a collection, attempts to classify or categorize the sonnets by reference to the works of others become even more of a subjective exercise: complicated by clashes with objective evidence.  It has been noted on this forum before that Shakespeare’s collection is unusual to the genre in the extent of its presentation (or implication) of an “I” addressing a “thou” (or “you”). When read straightforwardly as autobiography the poems appear to reflect aspects of, and developments in, a long, intimate and unusual primary relationship. There are matches therein with the personal history of the author, collectively unique in the consistency and extent of the mirroring of abnormal, but real, developments. That history provides a logical identification of WH and the nature of his role as the “only begetter”. It also allows an ability (as yet unmatched by other theories) to explain all the peculiarities of Thorpe’s foreword to the sonnets without resort to letter manipulation or linguistic strain.   

 

By contrast, efforts to categorize the collection (to match the formats and/or motives associated with preceding publications) inevitably stray into the use of a technique exemplified in Jim’s note. He opines that “most of the sonnets are modeled on earlier efforts by other writers”. However, if and when the matching breaks down, he is able to postulate that the distortion was contrived under “the central idea of mocking the conventions”. This technique, with its ability to mix divergent notions as required, gives little scope for objective verification.       

 

 

   

 

Shakespeare’s Sonnets

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.433  Monday, 28 September 2015

 

From:        Ian Steere <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         September 27, 2015 at 5:11:48 AM EDT

Subject:    Shakespeare’s Sonnets

 

In his intent to discredit theories that the sonnets include representations of real characters, Jim Carroll (SHAKSPER, 25 September) rejects Ari Friedlander’s acceptance of Mr WH as the main addressee of the poems. In the latter respect I agree with Jim. That theory (in all its sub-categories) has too many shortcomings to be taken seriously.

 

However, his support of Foster’s theory - that “W.H.” was a misprint of “W.SH.” (supposedly a reference by the publisher, Thorpe, to the author, Shakespeare) - is equally open to dismissal. Why would Thorpe, the man who evidently commissioned and instructed the printer, Eld, accept so misleading a misprint in the most important part of his introductory address? One cannot reasonably attribute this to a mistake caused by bad or unconventional handwriting. Eld had an existing printer/publisher relationship with Thorpe. His knowledge and experience made him more competent than anyone born after his time to assess the coherence of Thorpe’s proposed publication and his instructions. He was (with high probability) in a position to clarify directly with the publisher any uncertainties as to the latter’s intentions.

 

Moreover, Foster’s mooted identification of Shakespeare with WH leads to strains of interpretation elsewhere in Thorpe’s foreword. Its references to “our ever-living poet” then become unreasonably clumsy in their otherwise natural evoking of the literary immortality of the author. To avoid this clumsiness one is forced instead to postulate this to be an unlikely reference to some other poet or to God.

 

It is, of course true, as Jim shows, that many of Shakespeare’s sonnets reflect or imitate various aspects of preceding poems and fictional works of others. However, mirroring of this nature provides little specific evidence as to the underlying intent of the author. It merely suggests that he or she is prepared to use what is seen as good material to achieve the objective, whatever that is. There must been many a letter or poem to a beloved which has imitated or borrowed from another’s example of excellence - particularly so if there is also an accompanying desire to impress with education, skill or whatever.

 

When they are analyzed as a collection, attempts to classify or categorize the sonnets by reference to the works of others become even more of a subjective exercise: complicated by clashes with objective evidence.  It has been noted on this forum before that Shakespeare’s collection is unusual to the genre in the extent of its presentation (or implication) of an “I” addressing a “thou” (or “you”). When read straightforwardly as autobiography the poems appear to reflect aspects of, and developments in, a long, intimate and unusual primary relationship. There are matches therein with the personal history of the author, collectively unique in the consistency and extent of the mirroring of abnormal, but real, developments. That history provides a logical identification of WH and the nature of his role as the “only begetter”. It also allows an ability (as yet unmatched by other theories) to explain all the peculiarities of Thorpe’s foreword to the sonnets without resort to letter manipulation or linguistic strain.   

 

By contrast, efforts to categorize the collection (to match the formats and/or motives associated with preceding publications) inevitably stray into the use of a technique exemplified in Jim’s note. He opines that “most of the sonnets are modeled on earlier efforts by other writers”. However, if and when the matching breaks down, he is able to postulate that the distortion was contrived under “the central idea of mocking the conventions”. This technique, with its ability to mix divergent notions as required, gives little scope for objective verification.       

 

 

   

 

CFP Ohio State, Shakespeare’s Day: Popular Culture 1616/2016

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.431  Monday, 28 September 2015

 

From:        Hannibal Hamlin <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         September 25, 2015 at 12:15:03 PM EDT

Subject:    CFP Ohio State, Shakespeare’s Day: Popular Culture 1616/2016

 

Colleagues in the Ohio area might be especially interested in the following CFP:

 

Shakespeare’s Day: Popular Culture 1616/2016

 

Contact email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

The submission deadline for abstracts and panel proposals is October 15, 2015. Submissions after that date will be happily received, but cannot be guaranteed full consideration. Abstracts may be submitted via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

On February 19-20, 2016, the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies will host its third annual celebration of popular culture and the deep past at the Ohio State University, with ‘Shakespeare’s Day: Popular Culture 1616 / 2016,’ an exploration of popular identities past and present with special attention to the world of Shakespeare's time.  As in past years, this event will feature a scholarly conference (featuring papers, round tables, and other academic events) nested inside of a Renaissance-faire-like carnival (featuring exhibits, gaming, contests, and activities of all kinds).

 

We invite proposals for papers, sessions, workshops, readings, re-enactments, and other presentations or activities, academic or non-academic.  Individual proposals do not have to address both 17th- and 21st-century issues, but we shall seek some balance of the two in the overall planning.  Proposals directly involving Shakespeare and his English environment are encouraged, but we also invite presentations on the broader world of his time and ours, ranging from Cervantes to commedia dell'arte, colonial life, and beyond.  Proposals should evoke or thematize the 'popular' in some way, with regard to literature and the arts, sports and gaming, food and drink, artisans and consumers, material, intellectual, and religious culture, or other dimensions of everyday life.  Please consult our website for further details (http://cmrs.osu.edu/events/pcdp/2016-shakespeares-day).

 

Hannibal Hamlin

Professor of English

The Ohio State University

 

 

Shakespeare's father a shrewd and not so legal trader?

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.432  Monday, 28 September 2015

 

From:        Mari Bonomi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         September 28, 2015 at 1:54:24 PM EDT

Subject:    Shakespeare's father a shrewd and not so legal trader?

 

http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/sep/26/dodgy-dealings-william-shakespeare-father-wool

 

“[David] Fallow analysed financial records of the time, including wool markets, the value of exports from regional ports, statistics on the rise of trade in London and industry consolidation, as well as Stratford court documents from John Shakespeare’s illegal wool trading and the modest revenue generated by the theatres. Using his business acumen, he has pored over figures that he believes literary scholars have struggled to understand: “You get some very brilliant academic writing about Shakespeare. The minute they try to talk about money or numbers, it becomes almost incomprehensible.”

 

“Financial transactions and other surviving records have led him to conclude that the portrayal of John Shakespeare as a failed trader is a fable: “John Shakespeare was a national-level wool dealer, and legal research, coupled to analysis of the wool market, proves this. The Shakespeare family never fell into poverty.”

 

“He also argues that the family’s wealth could not have come just from William’s theatrical activities: “Nobody made a fortune from theatrical seat sales alone.”

 

The article goes on to note that Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust have commissioned Fallow to write a chapter in an upcoming Cambridge U Press book on alternative Shakespeare biographies.

 

My knowledge is far too limited to evaluated this information, but on the surface I think it makes good sense.

 

Mari Bonomi

 

 

 

Shakespeare’s Sonnets

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.430  Friday, 25 September 2015

 

From:        Jim Carroll <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         September 24, 2015 at 1:24:05 PM EDT

Subject:    Shakespeare’s Sonnets

 

This is a response to Ari Friedlander’s piece on Shakespeare that appeared in the Washington post a few weeks ago. The Post declined it. I’ve added some additional information available on the sonnets after the end of the piece:

 

Shakespeare’s sonnets have been misinterpreted for years, and it was not  until Donald Foster’s magisterial 1987 essay on the epigraph attached to the sonnets by Thomas Thorpe did anyone realize that the sonnets were not addressed to a person whose initials were “W.H.”; rather, “W.H.” is a misprint for “W.SH.”,  and Thorpe was merely praising Shakespeare himself. However, these facts are ignored even today by true believers who insist that there must be some real person to whom the sonnets are addressed.

 

Shakespeare’s habits of style and thought are quite consistent, even his habit of borrowing brief passages from other writers, and the sonnets are no exception because they reflect another one of his habits: reworking the themes, and even individual lines, of other writers. Most of his oeuvre, in fact, can be conceived as a response to prior literary efforts. For example, “Love’s Labor’s Lost” is Shakespeare’s take on John Lyly’s style of Euphuism, and “Troilus and Cressida” is Shakespeare’s take (or, what modern musicians would call a “cover”) on the brilliant long poem by Chaucer of the same title. Modern commentators rarely point out that the sonnets are also a response to earlier literary efforts. Sir Philip Sidney died in 1586, but his sonnet sequence survived and was published in 1591. This began a fad for sonnet sequences, and sequences by Samuel Daniel, Barnabe Barnes, Henry Constable, Edmund Spenser and others followed between 1591 and 1595. 

 

A typical idea expressed in the sonnets is that the writer is not worthy of the beloved, and the beloved is depicted as possessing great (and unrealistic) virtues. Barnabe Barnes carried this to an extreme, and one of his sonnets expresses the wish that the speaker of the sonnet (who may be the author or a fictional device) become a glass of wine so that he may be passed through his beloved’s privates: 

 

Barnabe Barnes Sonnet 63 from “Parthenophil & Parthenophe”, 1593.

 

Jove for Europa's love took shape of Bull, 

And for Calisto played Diana's part, 

And in a golden shower he filled full 

The lap of Danae, with celestial art. 

Would I were changed but to my Mistress' gloves, 

That those white lovely fingers I might hide,  

That I might kiss those hands, which mine heart loves  

Or else that chain of pearl (her neck's vain pride) 

Made proud with her neck's veins, that I might fold 

About that lovely neck, and her paps tickle,  

Or her to compass like a belt of gold,  

Or that sweet wine which down her throat doth trickle, 

To kiss her lips and lie next at her heart, 

Run through her veins, and pass by Pleasure's part. 

 

Shakespeare was certainly intelligent enough to realize how ridiculous such ideas are, and he brilliantly lampoons them in his play “Love’s Labor’s Lost”. There, three nobleman try to woo three noblewomen in part by writing sonnets to them. At the end of the play, the ladies tell the men to go to “some forlorn and naked hermitage”, and they will return in a year to see if the men have come to their senses. Shakespeare likewise highlights the difference between talking and doing in his play “Much Ado About Nothing”. In act 4, scene 1 (played brilliantly by Amy Acker and Alexis Denis of in the recent Joss Whedon film), Beatrice is tired of all the talking by the men:

 

Benedict: Tarry, good Beatrice.  By this hand, I love thee.

Beatrice: Use it for my love some other way than swearing by it.

 

Shakespeare’s mockery of romantic literary conventions extends to the poem attached to the sonnets, “A Lover’s Complaint”. There, a maiden sighs over a lover who loved and left her, but in the end she says that it was so exciting, she wishes he would return and ravish her again. In the sonnets themselves, Shakespeare turns the conventions on their head. Rather than address the opening sonnets to an unattainable female ideal, he addresses them to a literally unattainable man, urging him to marry to pass on his beauty to his children. Shakespeare’s diction mocks simultaneously the exaggerated diction of conventional sonnets but also the exaggerated manner in which men of the time wrote of their affection for each other. Later in the sequence, Shakespeare addresses sonnets to a woman, not some ideal beauty, but rather, a woman of apparently low morals, possibly a prostitute. Still later in his sequence, he creates a simile of a housewife (possibly his own wife) as she chases a chicken around her home:

 

Shakespeare Sonnet 143:

 

Lo as a careful huswife runs to catch

One of her feathered creatures broke away,

Sets down her babe and makes all swift dispatch

In pursuit of the thing she would have stay;

Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase,

Cries to catch her whose busy care is bent

To follow that which flies before her face,

Not prizing her poor infant's discontent;

So run'st thou after that which flies from thee,

Whilst I, thy babe, chase thee afar behind,

But if thou catch thy hope, turn back to me,

And play the mother's part, kiss me, be kind.

So will I pray that thou mayst have thy Will,

If thou turn back and my loud crying still.

 

The idea that some real person or persons is portrayed in the sonnets is belied by the fact that most of the sonnets are modeled on earlier efforts by other writers, and Shakespeare borrows phrases and lines lock stock and barrel for his own sonnets. For example, the “beauty’s rose” phrase in Shakespeare’s sonnet 1 is taken verbatim from Barnes’ sonnet 45.

 

The sonnets are in fact a potpourri of ideas governed by the central idea of mocking the conventions of romance in literature as they were conceived in his day. In my view, modern attempts to find real persons as the addressee trivialize his great literary achievement. 

[end]

 

An interesting series on the literary sources of the sonnets is currently in progress at humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare. If you go to https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare and search for “fictional universe of the sonnets”, the posts come up. They are numbered, one title for example is “11 The Fictional Universe of the Sonnets - The Eternity Trope”, and there is even an index that is updated regularly with titles like: “Update 6: An Index to “The Fictional Universe of the Sonnets””.

 

Jim Carroll

 

 

 

 

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